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Five years after bin Laden’s death, mystery surrounding Saudi Arabia and 9/11 remains

A congressionally mandated FBI report into possible foreign support for the Sept. 11 attacks deserves more attention.
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On Sept. 11, 2001, I was in the White House when Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda attacked the United States of America. As the special assistant to the president for Near East and North Africa affairs, I was responsible for dealing with the government of Saudi Arabia, bin Laden’s home country and the home of 15 of the 19 hijackers who carried out mass murder that day. There has been much controversy since 9/11 about what role the Saudi government or Saudi government officials may have played in the planning, funding or execution of the attack. Most famously, 28 pages of a Senate report that addressed the Saudi role and was completed shortly after the attacks has been kept classified for over a decade. Little attention has been paid to a recent commission report that examined these issues just last year.

Saudi-US relations in 2001 were stormy. President George W. Bush wanted to host Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah for a summit meeting at the White House. With King Fahd incapacitated by illness, the crown prince was running the kingdom. He refused to see the president because he was angry at Bush’s open tilt toward Israel during the second Palestinian intifada. The crown prince felt strongly that Bush was siding with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in a brutal crackdown in the West Bank and Gaza Strip of the Palestinian uprising. I had traveled twice with Secretary of State Colin Powell to see Abdullah that year, once in Riyadh and once in Paris, to explain the president’s position and urge the crown prince to come to Washington. He refused categorically. Only in early September, when Bush wrote a letter to the crown prince laying out his support for the creation of a Palestinian state to live in peace with Israel, did the Saudi leadership relent and agree to a meeting.

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